Thomas Delahunt (MSc Health & Wellbeing 2019): an A&E nurse , PhD student, lecturer, ultra-marathon runner, coach, researcher, father, poet, artist, blogger, award-winning teacher (Most Innovative Teacher of the Year 2019,Times Higher Education Awards) – and even that doesn’t scratch the surface of the many achievements and facets that make Tom unique.
Tom also has dyslexia, and explains: “Since I can remember I have always found spaces and people difficult to navigate. These problematic spaces were not simply structural or physical but also philosophical, musical and poetic. To me each context felt devoid of something unless I was conscious of moving within them creating an energy and often a kind of chaos.”
Creating a safe teaching space
We spoke to Tom about his drive to support nursing students in dealing with trauma, why creating a safe space for neurodiversity in education is so important and why he is challenging the ‘traditional’ norms of the HE system in favour of a more blended learning approach.
During his time as a student at Christ Church, Tom’s very complex dyslexia was diagnosed and this is reflected in his need for a visual representation of his learnings.
Tom is currently completely his PhD, looking at the role of trauma in the formation of identity and is half way through this thesis: ‘Why I said I didn’t want to write a thesis‘. Tom is choosing to represent his research findings through a visual and creative medium, in the form of a play and a children’s book, The Wandering Lamb. “My PhD is a blended auto-ethnographic approach looking at the impact of trauma on identity within pre-registration nursing students, using the medium of art and poetry.”
“My book is about unconditional love and the search for acceptance. I know there are lots of wandering lambs out there in schools and I hope to help teachers, parents and friends understand how vital our acceptance of our individuality is. When we love without condition we offer something truly beautiful. We also set the soul free to express the true self. As a dyslexic academia this book is a reflection of my heart.” And you don’t have to spend much time with Tom to realise his heart and soul goes into all he does.
Tom is passionate about supporting his students and preparing them for the emotional trauma they will face in their professional life. But he also wants to ensure representation and access to learning for all. And this was illustrated so perfectly when one of his students, who had their doubts as to whether their own particular neurodiversity would mean they could continue with the course, spoke to his course tutor. This student, after a lecture with Tom, realised he could do it, all he needed as to see someone similar to him, to give him the confidence to continue. And this representation and challenging the status quo is a key focus for Tom; ‘Little steps leading to whole system change’. “I want this thesis and subsequent works to be a voice of change within the preconception of; this is how it is done; there is no precedent; what is the method; what is the predicted impact?”
Reading has always been a key source of knowledge for Tom: “Some literature says close to you like a friend it has your back. There if needed. I have a big crowd gathered around me some of them are heavyweights in the world of intellect at least its perception and history (Freud, Kafka, Spinoza, Goethe, Frankl, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, the list is inexhaustible it seems). I fall deeply I love with people, objects, thinking, smells, ideas and these are the tapestry of a self-actualised life.”
It therefore seems right to end with a quote that Tom references in his PhD: ‘Maslow (1971) suggests; “My feeling is that the concept of creativeness and the concept of the healthy, self-actualizing, fully human person seem to be coming closer and closer together, and may perhaps turn out to be the same thing.”
Tom is using this concept to inform the way he teaches, his PhD and his philosophy for life: “I am a Nurse, I am a poet, I am a creative and I adore the alignment of the self within the trauma of being. What this means is giving the students a space and the community within which to self-express without fear and manage some of the deeper subconscious narratives – a space of expression to allow for the preservation of positive and compassionate behaviour.”